An Unfinished Cinema  

Text written for the Centenary of Cinema, Paris, 1995  

By Abbas Kiarostami


Originally, I thought that the lights went out in a movie theatre so that we could see the images on the screen better.  Then I looked a little closer at the audience settling comfortably into the seats and saw that there was a much more important reason: the darkness allowed the members of the audience to isolate themselves from others and be alone.  They were both with others and distant from them.  


When we reveal a film’s world to members of an audience, they each learn to create their own world through the wealth of their own experience.  


As a filmmaker, I rely on this creative intervention for, otherwise, the film and the audience will die together.  Faultless stories that work perfectly have one major defect: they work too well to allow the audience to intervene.  


It is a fact that films without a story are not  very popular with audiences, yet a story also requires gaps, empty spaces like in a crossword puzzle, voids that it is up to the audience to fill in. Or, like a private detective in a thriller to discover.  


I believe in a type of cinema that gives greater possibilities and time to its audience.  A half-created cinema, an unfinished cinema that attains completion through the creative spirit of the audience, so resulting in hundreds of films.  It belongs to the members of that audience and corresponds to their world.  


The world of each work, of each film recounts a new truth.  In the darkened theatre, we give everyone the chance to dream and to express his dream freely.  If art succeeds in changing things and proposing new ideas, it can only do so via the creativity of the people we are addressing—each individual member of the audience.  


Between the fabricated and ideal world of the artist and that of the person he addresses, there is a solid and permanent bond.  Art allows the individual to create his truth according to his own wishes and criteria; it also allows him to reject other imposed truths.  Art gives each artist and his audience the opportunity to have a more precise view of the truth concealed behind the pain and passion that ordinary people experience every day.  A filmmaker’s commitment to attempting to change daily life can only reach fruition through the complicity of the audience.  The latter is active only if the film creates a world full of contradictions and conflicts that the audience members are able to perceive.  


The formula is simple: there is a world that we consider real but not completely just.  This world is not the fruit of our minds and it does not suit us all that well but, through cinematic techniques, we create a world that is one hundred times more real and just than the world around us.  This does not mean that our world gives a false image of justice but, on the contrary, it better highlights the contrasts that exist between our ideal world and the real world.  In this world, we speak of hope, sorrow and passion.  


The cinema is a window into our dreams and through which it is easier to recognize ourselves.  Thanks to the knowledge and passion thus acquired, we transform life to the benefit of our dreams.  


The cinema seat is of greater assistance than the analyst’s couch. Sitting in a cinema seat we are left to our own devices and this is perhaps the only place where we are so bound to and yet so distant from each other: that is the miracle of cinema.  


In cinema’s next century, respect of the audience as an intelligent and constructive element is inevitable.  To attain this, one must perhaps move away from the concept of the audience as the absolute master.  The director must also be the audience of his own film.  


For one hundred years, cinema has belonged to the filmmaker.  Let us hope that now the time has come for us to implicate the audience in its second century.